Last week, Mark Parker and Nike announced that the legendary designer will be stepping down as president and CEO of the company on January 13, 2020, after which he’ll be taking on the role of executive chairman of the board. Parker – who has been CEO since 2006 and president since 2016 – has been with the company since 1979, when he was hired fresh out of college as a footwear designer and product tester.
In his forty years at Nike, Mark Parker worked at all levels of the company, rising through the ranks to the very top. His career and the many positions he has held have allowed him to work on everything from hands-on product design to big-picture, product-focused strategy. He has overseen the design, development, and production of countless sneakers – some revolutionary in design and tech, others highly popular due to their limited nature.
A large part of Parker’s legacy at Nike revolves around his involvement in HTM, the special Nike subdivision spearheaded by Fragment Design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield, and Parker himself (the acronym standing for their first names). HTM releases were often at the forefront of Nike’s innovative footwear strategy and a soundboard for ideas and yet-to-be-released technology. Oftentimes, the sneakers would create such hype that the model was given a wider, general release.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most noteworthy sneakers to release during Parker’s time at Nike. Some of the sneakers he had a hand in designing, while others were developed and designed by teams Parker was directly responsible for. With his role change not happening for another few months, there are likely to be a few more to add to this list but, in the meantime, scroll through and find out what we dug up.
Mark Parker helped design the Nike Pegasus in 1983, the first shoe to feature a heel-only Air unit. The Pegasus has since become one of Nike’s best-selling running shoes and is still part of Nike Running’s current catalogue, albeit having undergone major technology shifts.
Though he didn’t design the Air Max 1 (fellow legendary designer Tinker Hatfield did), Parker’s name was included on the patent for Visible Air. Thanks to the Air Max 1’s legendary status in sneaker culture, and Parker’s involvement, it’s a lock for this list.
The Nike Air Trainer was also designed by Tinker Hatfield, but as head of special projects for footwear, Parker played a part in its inception. This sneaker marked the beginning of the cross trainer category and immediately convinced John McEnroe of its superiority; the tennis star tried on a prototype and wore the sneaker for the rest of his career.
The Air Presto was born out of Nike’s since-disbanded Alpha Project, a sneaker think tank designed to identify and solve product performance problems with input from the athlete. It has known many different forms in its lifetime, becoming one of Nike’s most popular contemporary silhouettes.
It only made sense that the first sneaker HTM worked on was the Air Force 1, especially since it was celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2002. At a time where sneakers weren’t really associated with luxury as they are now, the trio added luxury-grade leather to the timeless classic.
The Sock Dart represented HTM’s shift towards highlighting new design concepts in the footwear space. The sneaker, which was based off of 1986’s Sock Racer, utilized computerized knitting technology on its upper, making it revolutionary in its own right.
The Footscape Woven is yet another design HTM introduced to the world, this time combining the upper from 2000’s Air Woven with the midsole unit from 1996’s original Footscape. The design has since undergone many updates and tweaks, most notably the Woven Chukka and the Air Footscape Magista ranges.
This space-inspired shoe is said to be Mark Parker’s all-time favorite sneaker. Its aesthetic was straight out of a sci-fi film when it was first released in 2004, something that still holds true to this day. It was re-released in limited numbers in 2014.
HTM’s version of the Flyknit Racer was the culmination of eight years of knit materials work, starting with the Sock Dart in 2004. It also ushered in the Flyknit era, which saw the model and subsequent updates become hugely popular among athletes and sneakerheads alike.
The Lunar Flyknit HTM’s impact was similar to that of its predecessor, the Flyknit Racer, only that it added Lunarlon technology to its tooling, combining two of Nike’s premier footwear technologies into one sneaker. The Lunarlon cushioning (and its superior comfort) once again won over consumers.
In February 2013, Flyknit was used cross-category for the first time. Nike Basketball designer Eric Avar used the material on the upper of a high-top sneaker, the Nike Kobe Elite Low IX, for the first time. HTM brought out a range of low-top models of the same sneaker that were extremely limited and highly sought-after.
The HyperAdapt is probably Mark Parker’s crowning achievement because it best represents his progression through the ranks at Nike. In 1988, the dynamic duo of Hatfield and Parker met with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis to draw up designs for a futuristic sneaker to be used in his sequel; the self-lacing Nike Mag was born. The shoe became a reality in 2017, when the self-lacing Nike HyperAdapt was released under Parker’s guidance.
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